Sunday, December 18, 2011

The One-Man Band

George Méliès in L'homme orchestre (1900)

Buster Keaton in The Playhouse (1921)

Oscar Levant in American in Paris (1951)

OutKast in "Hey Ya!" music video (2003)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cartoon Network Series Carries On Old Comedy Traditions

Classic comedy routines have turned up a number of times on the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time. Three routines made their way into the latest episode, "Marceline's Closet."

Finn and Jake get bored waiting for their friend Marceline to get home and seek to break the monotony by playing Cloud Hunt (a variation of Hide-and-Seek). Jake hides inside Marceline's house despite the fact that he is not supposed to go into the house while Marceline is away. Finn sees Jake through the window, but Jake pretends to be Finn's reflection. This results in a variation of the famous mirror routine.

Finn goes into the house to get Jake, but Marceline arrives home suddenly and the pair rush into her closet to hide.  When Marceline opens the closet to investigate a noise, Jake crouches down and hides his face to avoid being noticed while Finn tries to squeeze himself inside a boot. 

Later, the two of them hide inside a coat.

Harold  Lloyd tried a lot of these same tricks to elude police in Bumping Into Broadway (1919).  At one point, Lloyd even disguised himself as a table. 

Finn never got around to the table gag, but he did try to disguise himself as a lamp by putting a lampshade on his head. 

Charlie Chaplin used the same trick to great effect in The Adventurer (1917).


These routines, which were used in various forms by a several different comedians, are discussed at length in two chapters of The Funny Parts - "How to Disguise Yourself as Furniture and Fool Your Friends" and "Into the Looking Glass."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"If I could walk that way I would not need talcum powder!"

Here are four versions of the classic "Walk this way" routine.

Is My Palm Read (1933)

 In Society (1944)

Don't Throw That Knife (1951)

Young Frankenstein (1974)

A variant routine involved a dance instructor who loses control of their actions while leading students through a dance number and the students, unaware of a problem, blindly follows the instructor's disorderly moves.  Here is a clip that shows Max Linder performing the routine in Max, professeur de tango (1912).  Max, who has had cocktails prior to the lesson, is more than a little tipsy.

A better known version of the routine, in which a bee flies down the back of the instructor's dress, was performed by The Three Stooges in Hoi Polloi (1935).

Here is one other version of the routine that turned up on a 1982 episode of Police Squad.

The Funny Parts, which traces the history of gags and routines, is now available on Amazon.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"The Funny Parts" is Now On Sale

My latest book, The Funny Parts, is now available. You can click on the links below to purchase the book.

Amazon is listing the book as "Temporarily out of stock," but I looked into this and found that the book is expected to be available from Amazon in a week.

The Funny Parts, which deals with a wide range of gags and routines, is recommended to anyone who is a fan of classic comedy. Below is a table of contents.

Table of Contents

Preface      1
Introduction      3

1 And Then There Were Pies      7
2 Mannequins and Other Dummies      16
3 Animals      34
4 Adventures in Eating      77
5 Attack of the Vamps      99
6 Indecent Exposure      107
7 Spooky Apparitions      118
8 Bombs and Burglars      130
9 How to Disguise Yourself as Furniture and Fool Your Friends      135
10 The Amazing Trapdoor Chase      145
11 Science and Magic      151
12 Tooth Extraction and Laughing Gas      158
13 Into the Looking Glass      162
14 Sleepless Nights      168
15 Fathers to Sons of the Desert      178
16 The Big Jangly Box, the Sliding Ladder and Other Comic Props      183
17 The Buster Keaton Variations      192
18 The Harold Lloyd Variations      222
19 Hysterical History      229
20 Bugs      241
21 Scared Black Servants, Dice-Playing African Cannibals, and the Most Racist Comedy in Silent Cinema History      245
22 Other Variations      259

Chapter Notes      299
Bibliography      303
Index      305

The chapter titles should give away most of the subject matter.  For instance, the "Hysterical History" chapter involves costume farces. 

The "Sleepless Nights" chapter deals with comedians struggling to sleep in Murphy beds, hammocks and train berths. 

Full chapters are devoted to Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Laurel & Hardy. Other comedians featured prominently in the book include Charlie Chaplin, Lupino Lane, Harry Langdon, Larry Semon, The Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, and The Three Stooges.

Thanks to generous photo contributors, the book features more than 100 photos, many of which have never before appeared in print.  I actually had more photos than I could use, which is the reason that I am using a few of the extra photos in this article.

This shaving routine is from Hello, Pardner! (1923). 

Harold Lloyd has trouble shaving in a communal washroom during a train trip in Now or Never (1921).

Harry Langdon later found himself in the same situation in The Luck o' the Foolish (1924).  Both Now or Never and The Luck o' the Foolish also include berth travails.

Here is Lloyd involved in other stock comedy business, including animal antics, vamp intrigue and mass transit hassles.

I hope that everyone enjoys the book.

Hello, Judge (1922)

I recently wrote on this site about one of my favorite silent film comedy directors, Fred Fishback. Here are stills from a Fishback comedy called Hello, Judge, which was produced as part of Universal's Century series in 1922. Lee Moran and Ena Gregory starred as a married couple plagued by an overbearing mother-in-law (played by Blanche Payson).